Wednesday, April 13, 2011

60 seconds at CALS Day for Kids

Each year in April, the student council hosts CALS Day for Kids. More than 600 fourth grade students from the area come to campus to get a hands-on taste for science and agriculture.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cowboy mounted shooting

Rick Meyer. Submitted photo/

Skeptics beware. If the idea of riding around on a horse shooting at balloons seems quaint, a few minutes listening to Rick Meyer at the 2011 Midwest Horse Fair is likely to start your trigger finger itching. The owner of Royal Oak Ranch, Troy, Ill., is positively fervent about the sport of cowboy mounted shooting.

“From the first shot I was hooked,” Meyer said. “You’re on the course for 15-17 seconds at the most and the adrenlaline rush is so intense you’re exhausted when you cross the finish line.”

Cowboy mounted shooting clubs are springing up all over including Wisconsin and Illinios. The sport is a competitive, family-orientented time offering multiple levels of skill rivelry and growing purses for those pursuing professional ends in the sport, he said.

“You can shoot almost every weekend somewhere in North America,” Meyer added.

Competitors ride a 10-ballon course and use two pistols each holding five rounds of special blank ammo. Scoring is based on time and consistency with a five second penalty for each missed balloon and a 10 second penalty for running off course, for example. Accuracy is often more important than speed, Meyer said, because a course may last only 15 or so seconds. 

"At five seconds a balloon, missing can really add up in a hurry," he said. “I encourage people just starting out to go slow at first and make sure they hit every balloon.”

Riding fast and shooting at the same time takes some coordination between the horse and rider. Meyer said that people entering cowboy mounted shooting should be good riders. You’re going to have to condition yourself and your horse to the demands of riding and shooting.

“People who want to do cowboy mounted shooting usually want to do it with the horse they already have. That may not always work. You’ll want to evaluate your horse to see if it’ll be able to adjust to gunfire,” Meyer said.

Not only is the rider now shooting a gun from the back of a horse, hopefully there’ll be balloons exploding, too. Not every horse has the temperament to adjust to such demanding and noisy activities.
“There’s a bang and a flash and then a balloon explodes. If your horse is flighty this might not be the best sport,” Meyer said.

At the Midwest Horse Fair, Meyer hopes to introduce people to cowboy mounted shooting. He’ll demonstrate the sport during the Friday evening rodeo performance and will present seminars daily with tips about getting started.

“You can use any breed of horse or even mules. People do need to wear western clothing typical of the late 1800s time period but I noticed the trend is starting to modernize somewhat,” he said.

His own start in the sport began when a someone drove into the ranch one day looking for a place for horses. That someone turned out to be All-Star defenseman, Dave Ellett for the St. Loius Blues hockey team. Ellett’s spouse, Annie Bianco Ellett, is a World and National Champion cowboy mounted shooter and was looking for a place to keep her horses.

“I was watching her and she told me I should give it a try. All I could think was I hardly had time to do all the things I wanted to do – like a fishing boat that hadn’t been in the water for four years,” Meyer said.

When he did finally give cowboy mounted shooting a try that was it. Meyer said he was hooked.
Meyer’s background includes extensive training with performance horses of several breeds and disciplines including his own herd of Paso Fino horses. Among his many achievements are being named 1993 Trainer of the Year; serving as an international judge at the 1997 World Cup in Cali, Colombia, SA and co-authored the book “Horse Sense in Training.”

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Ginger Kathrens mustang movies

Ginger Kathrens

When serendipity strikes a movie maker the whole world shares the experience. Equine filmmaker Ginger Kathrens plans to share one of her most memorable moments from her movies at the 2011 Midwest Horse Fair.

“I don’t know what it was but I got up that morning before sunrise and decided to go out. I didn’t even brush my hair or teeth,” Kathrens said. “I just decided to drive in the direction the horses had gone the night before.”

As she crested the top of a hill in the mustang’s range in the Arrowhead Mountains of Montana, Kathrens noticed “blobs” on the ground ahead.

“It was a mare named Velvet and she had just foaled. Off in the distance was the stallion, Cloud,” Kathrens said. 

Cloud, by way of introduction, is the mustang stallion Kathrens has followed with her cameras since the day he was born. She has produced a series of documentary movies based around Cloud’s life that are familiar to viewers of such television programming as National Geographic, PBS Nature, Discovery Channel Animal Planet and the BBC.

“I’ll be showing some clips from my latest movie, ‘Cloud: Challenge of the Stallions.’ And I’ll be talking about my 17 year adventure filming wild horses,” she said.

Kathrens has created a body of documentary work that’s often compared to Jane Goodall’s work with wild chimpanzees in Africa. The series of movies on mustangs in their natural habitat stands alone documenting, from birth, a wild animal in North America.

While in production, Kathrens would travel from her home in Colorado Springs, Colorado to Montana one week a month every month. The idea was to make sure to capture the mustangs in their habitat during every season. “Now we go up there every couple of months,” she said.

Because of her close, longstanding relationship to wild mustangs, Kathrens has developed into an advocate for the animals. Cloud, the star of Kathrens’ films, has been rounded up twice with his band of mares by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). While Cloud has been spared, the band has suffered.
Photos provided by Ginger Kathrens

“Wild mustangs may be gone in 10 years the way things are going,” she said.
That’s not to suggest she is giving up. Like her documentaries, life and death are part of the day to day existence of wild horses everywhere and she’s hopeful they’ll be given room in the environment to survive and thrive.

Kathrens mentioned that documentary movies are not works of fiction about animals like a Disney movie for children. Documentary movies take the viewer along to see exactly what happens in the lives of the subject.

“In a documentary you see the good stuff and the bad. That’s life,” she said.

Wild horses gather into groups she calls “bands.” A band may be a stallion and a mare, a stallion and a group of mares or even a group of bachelor stallions. 

And humans aren’t the only challenge wild mustangs face. The environment takes its toll on horses, too.

“New research out of Canada show that at least in Cloud’s range, mountain lions are the biggest predators,” Kathrens said. “One season lions got 30 foals. The only foal that survived that season was one born closer to a road where the mountain lions probably stayed away.”

You can listen and watch Kathrens Friday afternoon at 2:00, listen to another session on equine photography at 3:00 Saturday and again at 10:30 Sunday. Check the schedule of events for the Midwest Horse Fair for locations and time changes.
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Monday, April 11, 2011

The eyes may have it

Dr. Jennifer Thompson

Something amiss in a horse’s eye will creep out even veteran owners. But given the list of possible injuries, infections and diseases that affect horse eyes, you’re likely to encounter a problem at some point.

Dr. Jennifer Thompson, Lodi/Madison Equine Clinic explained that horses have the largest eyes of any land-bound mammal. A horse eye is larger than the eye of an elephant, she said. Horse eyesight sweeps 250 degrees around the animal leaving blind spots in the coverage directly ahead and directly behind.

“Horses have 20/33 visual accuracy compared to 20/50 for a dog and 20/330 for a rat,” Thompson said. “The horse has a visual streak area and a point of best focus. They’ll position their heads to get that point of focus.”

A horse will tilt its head to get a point of focus on a specific object or point. They’ll raise their heads to focus on distant subjects and lower and tilt their heads to focus on things nearby or on the ground. Outside of the point of focus area, horses appear to have great sensitivity to movement explaining a tendency to sometimes startle over things unnoticed by to humans.

“Horses also see better in dark than light. The tapetum lucidum is a layer of tissue in the eye that reflects extra light at night and allows the horse to see better in the dark,” Thompson said.

Horses see two colors: blues and reds. For example, a red apple appears green to a horse creating a situation similar to color blindness in people. High contrast areas also are more noticeable to horses and can create problems when trying to move the animals from bright sun into a dark barn or trailer.

“But the more contrast there is between objects the less trouble you may have with other things. Contrasting colors can help a horse distinguish fencing. The hunt fence with contrasting colors leads to less rails down in a competition,” Thompson said.

When it comes to injuries and diseases of the eye, Thompson suggested that you begin by knowing what a healthy eye looks like. The eye should be bright, blinking, clear, constant colors, reactive pupils and free of any discharge.

Once you see the eye closed, swollen, a color change, drainage, or a non-reactive pupil you have a good indication something is haywire. Thompson referred to such conditions as “An unhappy eye.”

Among common eye maladies is a corneal ulcer. A grain of sand, dust, weed seed or hay chaff, for example, in the eye under the eyelid can scratch the cornea. If the abrasion is deep enough and left undetected you can end up with the ulcer. Treatment involves cleaning and perhaps additional care as advised by a veterinarian, Thompson said.

Pink eye or conjunctivitis is also on the list of common potential problems. Pink eye is treatable with medicine and largely preventable with the use of a fly mask. Flies are notorious for spreading pink eye and fly masks help close the door on that method of transmission.

Sensitivity to light along with some pain, swelling and small flecks of color in the eye can fall into a category known as uveitis or ERU, equine recurrent uveitis. It isn’t always clear what causes ERU, Thompson said, but if you can’t get it under control the disease can cause blindness.

Horses have a tendency to injure eyes, too, Thompson added. “The majority of eye injuries that I see in my practice come from water or grain buckets. People let them wear out and get bent and out of shape and when the horse puts its head in to eat or drink it catches and eye or eyelid as it pulls its head back out,” Thompson said.

While there is a long list of thing that can affect a horse’s eye, Thompson said that most of them are manageable. “Even a blind horse or a horse with one eye can lead an otherwise healthy and productive life. I had a client that kept a blind horse and it lived many years. You have to make some adjustments but it can be done,” she said.